5 Really Dumb Movie Ratings Controversies
The MPAA is the shadowy organization responsible for deciding exactly how red the blood in a movie can be before the American public flees to their fainting couches. If you think an institution wholly owned by major film studios and run by an anonymous force that operates with no set guidelines might be prone to making some questionable decisions, well, you'd be right. For example ...
American Psycho Couldn't Show Women's Faces During Sex
The NC-17 rating is a basically a death sentence for a mainstream film. In theory, it only means that theaters are encouraged ( not even forced) to keep kids out, but in practice it means most theaters won't screen the film at all. Still, if any film was going to get that death sentence, American Psycho definitely deserved it, what with all the graphic ax murder. Initially, it did. But not for the violence. The MPAA instead drew the line at the scene wherein Patrick Bateman hires two sex workers for a little "Su-Su-Sussudio." It was a bit too sexy for the MPAA -- at least 1.5 times as sexy as two-way sex -- so the filmmakers had to cut the scene down to bring it down to R-level. This meant a lot of shots tightly zoomed in on Christian Bale while showing as little of the women as possible.
This also meant cutting out the women's faces, which irritated the director for artistic, if not moral, reasons. As scripted and filmed, the women were supposed to look really bored, while Bateman cheers himself on in the mirror. He thinks he's a sex god, but their faces tell us he's not. The filmmakers did their best with what they had, but if you've ever seen this GIF posted online unironically, you'll know not everyone got the message.
It's worth noting that when the sex ends, there's a postscript sequence revealing that afterward, Bateman sliced up one of the women with scissors. The MPAA was fine with that.
The Wild Bunch Got An NC-17 25 Years After Being Released
When the 1969 western The Wild Bunch was released in theaters, it earned an R rating for cowboy-related violence that made Deadwood look like a Six Flags stunt show. In fact, it's so horrifying that when Warner Bros. attempted to theatrically release a director's cut with 10 extra minutes of footage for the film's 25-year anniversary, the MPAA upped the rating to an NC-17.
What could those 10 minutes possibly depict? What exactly made them look at a movie that already had a triple-digit body count via multiple graphic shootouts, explosions, and slashings and go "That's it, you've gone too far"? Nothing, it turns out. Those 10 minutes of footage were in fact in the version of the movie the MPAA saw all those years ago, later cut for time reasons. The all-powerful body just watched the movie again and decided they'd made a terrible mistake the first time around.
It took nearly a year and a half of fighting with the MPAA for Warner Bros. to release The Wild Bunch, a film later listed at #80 on the AFI's Top 100 list, with the R rating it already had for the last 25 years. They must have realized the dwindling number of Ernest Borgnine super fans who were willing to pay theater money were likely over 17 already.
Eighth-Graders Couldn't Watch Eight Grade
When comedian Bo Burnham premiered his film Eighth Grade at Sundance, it was met with near-universal acclaim for its honest and relatable portrayal of adolescence and admirable restraint considering his, um, previous work. Of course, the MPAA slapped it with an R rating. Since that rating prohibits anyone under 17 from attending without a guardian, it effectively killed any chance of being seen by the people who needed it most.
Burnham was, of course, heartbroken by the decision, but it turns out the guy who committed his entire adult life to satire didn't want to play entirely by the rules. Who could have foreseen? Instead of submitting to the intangible blob of the MPAA, he and production company A24 organized free unrated showings at theaters in all 50 states. The showings were so successful that a few months later, they took the film to 100 middle schools across the country. The slots were so coveted that schools actually had to apply for the privilege of letting their youth be corrupted by the movie's alleged filth. The free showings didn't even hurt the movie's bottom line. It made back its $2 million budget seven times over. Apparently, there are a lot of adults still nursing their eighth-grade scars. Who could have foreseen?!
Bully: The Doc About Teenage Bullying That Teenagers Couldn't See
Years before, in 2011, the MPAA had pulled the same trick with Bully, and for the same reason. They slapped it with a hard R rating for a handful of bad words. The director refused to cut the language, pointing out that it's the same thing kids who are bullied hear every day, but according to the MPAA, they should only be subjected to such language when it hurts them, not when it helps them.
After a lot of campaigning by a lot of students, the MPAA agreed to lower the rating if the director agreed to censor three instances of one specific word. That's all it took, and of course, bullying was never a thing again.
Phantasm Got An X Rating For Showing A Puddle Of Urine
The plot of 1979's Phantasm is a convoluted bouillabaisse of nonsense (an evil superhuman undertaker travels through time and space with the goal of transforming the dead into zombie dwarves), but nobody who watched it cared. They will never forget the floating metallic murder ball and the creepy old man who wielded it. The ratings board certainly found it terrifying. Not because of the amount of violence, which was typical, but because of pee.
Granted, this wasn't any ordinary pee; it was dead man's pee. In one scene, a villainous goon gets his noggin fatally penetrated by the stabby sphere, then wets himself after falling to the floor. That was enough for the board to slap the film with a box-office-poison X rating, which would have deprived the world of no fewer than four lackluster sequels.
Luckily, Los Angeles Times film critic Charles Champlin thought highly of the plucky low-budget flick, and he placed a call to a friend who held a seat on the ratings board. Said friend was apparently amenable and influential enough that the X was downgraded to an R. That's the official story, anyway. We can't prove that Champlin isn't a powerful shadow-bender who can manipulate the inky void of the MPAA to his will. Either way, he's a good friend to have.
E. Reid Ross has a book called BIZARRE WORLD. He's practically on his knees begging that you order it now from Amazon or Barnes and Noble and leave a scathing/glowing review. Tiago Svn's uncensored thoughts can be found on his Twitter. Please, for the love of god, follow Brogan on Twitter. Follow Ryan Menezes on Twitter for bits cut from this article and other stuff no one should see.
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